Crab Walk To A Better Crab Cake

When the person you’re dating casually mentions that they like crab cakes, you find a way to make crab cakes.

Look, I don’t make the rules here, that’s just how it goes. Said person could have expressed an attraction to fugu or turducken, for all you know, so there’s no reason why such a simple desire can’t be indulged.

Making Vegan Crab Cakes

Crab has a fairly mild flavor, subtly sweet and oceanic, often compared to lobster, without the oily fishy flavor that smaller sea creatures are known for. Replicating this experience in a convincing way requires taking this unique taste and tender, shredded texture into account.

  • Most plant based crab cake recipes feature jackfruit, the hottest tropical fruit to hit American dining room tables. Though I’ve previously used an unconventional combination of glass noodles and tofu to replicate that shredded, chewy texture, I wanted to tap a lesser known import for this version: banana blossoms. They’re very similar in the eating experience of brined young jackfruit packed in cans, but have a softer bite and slightly more natural taste. Banana blossoms can be found fresh in the produce section of more robust Asian markets, canned alongside the jackfruit, or frozen, nearby the other veggies and edamame in the freezer aisle. I used frozen which comes finely shredded and simply needs to be thawed. If you’re starting with larger pieces, you’ll want to thinly julienne them with a sharp knife, or pulse them a few times in your food processor.
  • Nothing says “ship shape” like a pinch of dried wakame. It rehydrates about 3 to 4 times in volume, so I like to crush it roughly to better distribute the flakes.
  • Panko breadcrumbs act as a binder and textural enhancement; contrary to antiquated approaches, it’s NOT a filler and is key for overall enjoyment. You can find gluten-free versions if needed, but don’t swap in standard Italian breadcrumbs, which will make the crab cakes too dense and heavy.

Serving Suggestions

Crab cakes don’t need to get dressed up to go out; they always look fabulous, even without makeup on.

  • Pass around a platter of crab cakes as a standalone snack or appetizer, perhaps with tartar sauce or sriracha mayo for dipping, and call it a night.
  • Craft a complete meal around them, making them the star of the show. A voluminous arugula or spinach salad is a great way to get your greens without distracting from the headliners. On cold nights, saute, stir fry, or even cream those greens to serve the whole thing hot. For a different take on scampi or alfredo, crown your pile of garlicky noodles with crisp crab cakes, rather than more shrimpy fare.
  • Leftovers make stunningly great sandwich fodder. They’re a bit fragile so they tend to fall apart when reheated. Don’t sweat it! Embrace the unraveling and add an extra dollop of vegan mayo to make an incredible crab salad. Slap it between two slices of bread with tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and anything else you like. Eat as is or brush with melted vegan butter and toast the whole thing.

Crab Cakes are an easy request to fulfill. Say you’re making them as a favor, but it’s okay to want them for yourself, too.

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Queso The Mondays

The longer I live in Texas, the more recipes I’ll have for queso. A party doesn’t start without liquid cheese on the table, and who says you can only have one?

Though chili is the official state dish of Texas, I think queso should have its own distinction as the state’s official dip. While we’re on the subject, pecan trees are the official trees of Texas and naturally, pecans the official nut. While cashews are the standard base for vegan queso, there’s no reason why we can’t take a more Texan approach to this savory staple.

What Makes This The Best Vegan Queso Recipe

Buttery, subtly sweet, and robustly nutty, pecans add a whole new level of decadence to everyone’s favorite Tex-Mex appetizer. Creamy and thick enough to generously coat chips, it’s rich enough to satisfy any craving. Plus, it’s ready in mere minutes, so you can always have queso on hand for gatherings big or small.

Uses For Plant-Based Queso

Naturally, queso was made for dipping tortilla chips, but that’s just the start. Save some for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in all sorts of other dishes.

  • Drizzled over tacos
  • Mixed into tofu scramble
  • Stuffed into burritos
  • Used as filling for quesadillas
  • Tossed with pasta

Forget processed dairy products. There’s a whole world of queso with bolder flavor and better nutrition, and I promise, it’s not a tough nut to crack.

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Do As You Peas

Standing in the kitchen, hands full of half-peeled zucchini in the dark of night, I’m trying to channel my grandmother circa 1984. Five years before I was born, President Ronald Reagan was in office, astronauts went on the first untethered space walk on the moon, and Apple made a splash with its infamous “1984” Macintosh commercial. It was also the year that Bon App├ętit magazine published a recipe for Zucchini Cups Stuffed with Peas.

Zucchini Cups Stuffed With Peas - Recipe Card from Bon Appetit Magazine, December 1984

I know this because my grandmother so carefully clipped and preserved this relic of the past. It survived nearly four decades, multiple moves, deaths and births, whole lifetimes. Not once did I ever see zucchini cups with peas grace our table, and I can’t help but wonder…Zucchini cups, cored

Why? Why zucchini cups?

  • Why was this recipe run in December, for starters, when neither zucchini nor peas would be in season?
  • Why was this the standout dish my grandmother kept, of things?
  • Why couldn’t I stop thinking about it, from the minute my mom unearthed it?

Stuffing baked zucchini cups with peas.

These questions have no answers.

My grandmother doesn’t remember the zucchini cups or what inspired her to file the recipe away. I’m okay with not knowing; some things just are that way, and I’m happy to have this taste of the past, maybe even better than what my grandmother had envisioned during her years of entertaining.

Zucchini cups stuffed with peas on a silver platter.

Small changes were necessary, of course, to veganize and enhance the original stuffed zucchini recipe with modern ingredients and technology.

  • Butter is traded for peppery extra virgin olive oil.
  • Dried tarragon gets axed in favor of verdant fresh herbs.
  • Melon ballers belong only in museums at this point, so I reached for my trusty zucchini reamer instead (yes, that’s a thing)- Though you could very happily use a regular pairing knife here.
  • Boiled zucchini sound downright dreadful, which is why the dry heat of the oven, which concentrates flavors and gently browns the surface, had much greater appeal.

The real beauty of the concept, however, is that it doesn’t take much to assemble or enjoy. I suppose they were intended to serve as appetizers or snacks for guests, as every good housewife should be ready to entertain at the drop of a hat, but I happen to think they make a fantastic side dish for any random weekday dinner, too.

Green pea stuffing.

If you have extra peas, those alone are brilliant to pair with just about any protein, such as a meatless loaf, balls, or cutlet, especially with creamy mashed potatoes or al dente pasta as a base. Beyond that, consider using them to top avocado toast, puree to use as a dip, or mash roughly to stuff into sandwiches.

Zucchini cups stuffed with peas on a silver platter.

I’m certain my grandmother never made the original recipe, but I hope I could still do her proud with my rendition. We don’t have many memories together, at least in recent years, so I’m grateful to keep making new ones now.

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Playing With Fire

Food is simply more fun when you can set it on fire. Don’t believe me? Clearly, you need more saganaki in your life.

What Is Saganaki?

Although most people associate the word saganaki with gooey cheese that’s pan fried and served hot, the word itself actually refers to the cast iron pan itself. A wide variety of appetizers, or Greek tapas, if you will, fall under the category. Given the popularity of molten cheese though, 9.5 times out of 10, this is the version most people think of.

Fire isn’t a mandatory or even traditional ingredient. It was first presented with this theatrical flare at the Parthenon Greek Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. Given the opportunity to set food on fire, however, why would you chose anything else?

How To Make Vegan Saganaki

Vegan saganaki is made just the like classic by simply swapping out the dairy. Of course, there’s no direct non-dairy translation for traditional kasseri cheese, but plenty of respectable substitutes. Plant-based feta is your best bet, since it melts reasonably for that satisfying gooey interior, has a strong flavor that can stand up to the alcohol infusion, and is widely available in most markets. My favorite vegan feta options, in order, are:

  • Violife
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Daiya

The key is to buy only full blocks, not crumbles or cubes, and nothing tofu-based which is impervious to melting. Of course, meltability is both an asset and a flaw for this preparation. Instead of staying firm but gooey, like a runny brie at room temperature, vegan feta tends to lose all structure and form, liquefying into a rich, creamy dip with a glorious toasty surface. Plant-based saganaki is possibly an improvement over the original, because this version has further applications, such as:

  • Pasta sauce
  • Pizza topping
  • Spanikopita filling

What To Serve With Saganaki

Flaming cheese alone doesn’t make a meal, but it can become a central facet of a well-curated array of savory bites. Whether this is the prelude to a full entree or the main event itself is all in the portions. Classic accompaniments and serving suggestions include:

  • Crusty bread, toast, or crackers
  • Pita wedges, grilled or warmed
  • Olives
  • Dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
  • Hummus
  • Mediterranean or shirazi salad
  • Raw crudites, like sliced cucumbers, carrots, or celery
  • Roasted or grilled vegetables, like red bell peppers, zucchini, or eggplant

Tips For Success

  1. Any high-proof spirit will work in this recipe. Try ouzo to keep it Greek, or use vodka for a more neutral flavor.
  2. Safety first! Turn off stove and remove the pan before adding alcohol. Use a long lighter to ignite the cheese, or light the end of a piece of dried linguine or spaghetti first to act as a conduit.
  3. To make this recipe gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free flour blend instead of all-purpose.
  4. Make a smaller batch by cutting your feta in half or even quarters, and adjusting the remaining ingredients accordingly. It’s more about the technique than exact measurements.Like moths, we’re all inexorably drawn to the flames. When you want to start an event with a bang, impress someone special, or just play with fire, this will be your new favorite party trick.

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Happy As A Vegan Clam

New Year’s Eve is the single most superstitious day of the year.

Even if you’re typically a logical, pragmatic person, it’s hard to resist placing some significance on the visible acceleration of time. When faced with a full 365 days of unknown fortune ahead, wouldn’t you want to stack the deck in your favor, just in case? Don’t just raise a glass to good luck; make it a guest at the party by inviting these Plant-Based Baked Clams to join the fun.

Vegan Baked Clams

What’s The Significance of Clams?

Slang for dollars, round like coins, and known to produce lucrative pearls, clams are strongly associated with property across all cultures. In fact, the indigenous peoples of the Americas used the shells themselves directly as a form of currency. Beyond symbolism, this was literal money harvested from the sea.

That said, you can enhance your luck while preserving your karma by cooking up plants, not bivalves.

Ingredients for Vegan Baked Clams

How Can You Make Vegan Baked Clams?

The key ingredient is soaked Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms. Rich with natural umami, chopped to approximate the toothsome, chewy texture of diced seafood, it’s a wholly unique creation that no other plant or animal can replace. Koshin shiitake are ideal for their wide, flat caps, but Donko shiitake would also be welcome for a meatier, heartier bite.

Finely minced shallots and garlic are sauteed in peppery extra-virgin olive oil to infuse their savory aroma into the entire kitchen. Caper brine adds a distinctive oceanic salinity, accentuated by the gentle acidity of fresh citrus. Cheesy, buttery nutritional yeast brings everything together with light panko breadcrumbs for binding, toasting to a nutty and crunchy finish.

Vegan Baked Clams

What Are Variations On Baked Clams?

Consider this formula the classic rendition, simple and elegant, that goes with every occasion. If you want more pizazz and flair, you have plenty of room for creative adaption:

  • Clams Casino: Swap the olive oil for melted vegan butter and add 1/4 cup meatless bacon bits.
  • Dynamite Clams: Stir in 2 – 3 teaspoons sriracha and 2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise right before baking.
  • Sweet & Salty Clams: Swap the breadcrumbs for crushed pretzels and add 1 tablespoon vegan honey or maple syrup.
  • Clams Rosa: Swap the white wine for red and add 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Optionally, add minced fresh basil.

Vegan Baked Clams

Tips For Success

The best party has food for everyone. That means catering to a diverse range of dietary restrictions, but it’s easy to accommodate with some simple modifications:

  • To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free breadcrumbs or coarse almond meal.
  • To make this recipe without alcohol, use more mushroom soaking liquid instead of white wine.
  • To make this recipe oil-free, use more mushroom soaking liquid instead of olive oil. You may need more than the 1/4 cup listed; watch it carefully and make sure it doesn’t dry out.

Don’t take your chances with other hors d’oeuvres. Shiitake baked clams are bougie on a budget, which means you’re already well on your way to greater fortunes ahead.

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A Time and A Place For Everything

Gifting holidays can be tough, placing the burden squarely on the giver. Some people can be picky, tough to shop for, or claim to not want or need presents. What can you get for the person with everything? Well, how about more of everything!

Everything cheese straws take the irresistible savory seasoning synonymous with the very best bagels and wraps it up in cream cheese-slathered puff pastry. These buttery, flaky, and crispy morsels come together in an instant with just four essential ingredients, making them perfect for parties, last-minute guests, and effortless gifts.

What can you serve Everything Cheese Straws with?

I’m not trying to make yet another cute pun, but these savory morsels really do pair beautifully with just about everything! Think of them as bread sticks to enjoy alongside any meal, stand-alone snacks or appetizers, or coupled with a few of my favorites:

You don’t need to be a skilled baker to pull off a Christmas miracle here. Just give it everything you’ve got, and that’s the best gift of all.

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